Gut Instincts and Brainy Bets Driving the Future of Neuro-Investments

Exploring how the Intersection of Neuroscience and Investment Opportunities is Shaping the Exciting Landscape of Gut-Brain Research
Funding & Investments
Health & Medicine
Sohum Phadke
April 21, 2024

Over centuries, philosophers, poets, and scientists alike have been captivated by the human “second brain.” Hidden along the linings of your digestive system are trillions of microbial cells and nerve cells, extensively connecting your digestive and central nervous system via the vagus nerve. While early thinkers were unaware of this unassuming connection, leading research sparks new excitement for neurotechnology innovation and investments. 

Unraveling the Gut-Brain Connection

The growing interest in this area is fueled by a wealth of studies investigating how certain diets, like the Keto and Mediterranean diets, can positively affect neurological conditions such as depression, Alzheimer's, and dementia. Additionally, recent research published in Nature has uncovered connections between managing psychological factors such as anxiety, mood, and cognition, as well as physical sensations like pain and the presence of pathogenic bacterial infections in the body.

With similar studies emerging monthly, eager entrepreneurs are seizing upon the intricate gut-brain connection to introduce a wide range of proprietary technologies, spanning from wearables to psychedelics. This May, SynBioBeta’s Global Synthetic Biology Conference—the largest of its kind—will showcase diverse companies venturing into the neurotechnology space. Among these innovators, Motif Neurotech stands out with its focus on developing minimally invasive bioelectronics to address mental health disorders.

Amy Kruse, Chief Investment Officer at Satori Neuro [Image courtesy of Satori Neuro]

In a realm ripe for innovation and research, few experts have managed to keep pace with the industry's rapid evolution, such as Dr. Amy Kruse, Chief Investment Officer at Satori Neuro. In early 2023, the investment firm unveiled its latest fund. Describing it as stage-agnostic, Kruse emphasizes its dedication to promoting "human flourishing" through advancements in brain health, applications of neurotechnology, and beyond. 

Innovations and Investments in Neurotechnology

Embedded within the ethos of Satori Neuro is a vigilant observation of a pivotal moment in the gut-brain arena. Here, innovative approaches are transitioning from academic and research realms into enticing opportunities for venture capitalists. Explaining her personal intrigue in the field, Kruse notes, "The industry has two distinct advantages: a substantial unmet need and expansive total addressable markets." These advantages position neuro-investments as fertile ground for Satori to explore and invest in.

Kruse's investment strategy draws heavily from her early experiences. Following her PhD., in Neuroscience, she steered pioneering neuroscience programs as a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Reflecting on this period, Kruse remarks, "It truly shaped my approach to cutting-edge research and innovation." Her tenure at DARPA not only acquainted her with the potential of neurotechnology but also honed her analytical and problem-solving skills, which are crucial in investment due diligence.

As Satori Neuro charts its course of portfolio expansion, Kruse applies her astute insight to assess potential additions. "I prefer to enter when the science is fairly well established," Kruse shares, "and we have a solid understanding of how the mechanisms of a solution may function." Much of Kruse’s diligence revolves around navigating risk, a familiar adversary in the healthcare landscape. As Kruse points out, one approach to minimizing risk in the gut-brain space is through expedited clinical data trials: "Currently, probiotics are categorized as food rather than drugs," bypassing stringent FDA regulations on drug approval.

Investment in fields like neurotech are the key to them continuing to move forward. [Sorapong's Images/Canva]

Nonetheless, a formidable team and founder underpin every successful company. As an investor, Kruse equally invests in people as companies. In her view, a key indicator of a successful founder is self-awareness. "It's refreshing to see a founder who recognizes their weaknesses in specific areas," Kruse remarks. Founders in the gut-brain space should spend time getting a deep understanding of the market landscape, particularly identifying holes and gaps in the market and studying competition in their specific niche. Additionally, Kruse values a founder's resourcefulness in securing non-dilutive capital, whether through avenues like the NIH, DARPA, or elsewhere. This aspect, she suggests, is worth considering for founders.

The remarkable progress in the gut-brain space has ignited excitement among academia, entrepreneurs, and investors over the past decade. With a deeper understanding of the mechanisms underlying this connection, the market's potential is incredibly promising for investment. There's a significant amount of capital flowing into this space, and experts like Kruse are eagerly joining the ranks of those excited about its prospects. 

You can meet Kruse and other prominent investors at SynBioBeta’s annual conference this May. Joining her will be OpenWater’s Mary Lou Jepsen, Motif Neurotech CEO Jacob Robinson, and Ampa CEO Don Vaughn in an engaging breakout panel on neurostimulation. "We're in an incredibly exciting time and space where synthetic biology is really coming into its own... I am excited to see the progress that has been made over the past year."

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